Saturday, July 7, 2007

Spitzbergen, kinda creepy...

Spitzbergen Island is remote, and when we first got on the shuttle bus into town (check it out! 1960s Volvo) it’s also slightly foreboding, as the mountainscape on one side is dominated by a derelict coal-mining plant. The chair-lift, with brown carts (as seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) is there still but eerily motionless, and some of the structures have fallen into desrepair. You can just see it, on the right side of the mountain in this picture. It’s like it was just abandoned, and for some reason nobody dismantled anything.

In fact, even in town, the place has the feel of a movie-set, where perhaps something beyond the quaintness of small-town life is crucial to the movie. Look at this car, another old Volvo, no plates….then there’s this house, one of many with antlers or stuffed snow-foxes proudly out on the porch: the sign of a successful hunter? Or perhaps something more ominous?
There are now 2000 inhabitants of Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen, but it feels smaller.

I did love these multi-coloured houses, all interlinked for the water and drainage systems -the town is easy to map out in this respect- they remind me of Cabanas native to Argentina, only a winter version where instead of tango-dancing on the porch, there are snow-ploughs. It was crisp and sunny, and the super-fresh air was a beautiful break from the recycled, air-conditioned, dry-til-you-cough breathing kit we are subjecting our lungs to on the ship.

In Spitzbergen, when people talk about what you drive, they’re not talking about your car. It’s all about the snow-plough you ride, or as Eric says, your Ski-doo (although I think that may be a brand name.)
Apparently this is also a good snow-travel machine, and my man is Canadian, he knows about this stuff.

I was thrilled to see your actual, authentic husky-sled.

There are a lot of climbing frames in Spitzbergen, some are the excellent old wooden kind with boats, wendy houses and everything, but we saw no children. We jumped on a spring see-saw, but realised we are now too heavy for it to be fun any more.
Instead, we chased around this poor field mouse, until it ducked under some decking, as field-mice do.

When you get to the end of town, it feels like the end of the earth and all civilisation.

This is clearly a part of the world where the “We’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign never made much of an impression. Gloves, hats, coats, boots all come in a variety of furs, as well as these rugs. It’s the grizzly bear on the bottom shelf that gets me, see, being British these bears are about as exotic as they come and I have a strange fascination with meeting one, alive, in the wild (not dancing and chained as I had the horror of seeing in St. Petersburg, it was heart-breaking to see the cubs) and obviously at a safe distance, and this rug upset me slightly, sheltered Englishwoman that I am.

We were issued notices onboard not to venture out of town unless on an organised wildlife-observation excursion, because this is polar-bear territory. There was even a caption on the guest channel that read “A fight between a polar bear and a human usually ends in death either for the bear or the human, whichever happens first”. I wanted to get a picture of a sign warning for bears (I KNOW they exist!) but didn’t see any. I did see signs telling you not to bring your guns or firearms into stores, which was new to me, but I felt silly photographing them.
This was the only polar bear we saw, and like so much of the wildlife we saw here (the mouse aside) it was dead, stuffed, and on display.
There is however a shop that excited me, not only is it a store of my namesake, but the weirdest spelling of my name I’ve ever seen!

1 comment:

Ex-Shammickite said...

FYI, sheltered Englishwoman that you are, the blue car is a Mercedes NOT a Volvo.
The antlers are weird but I love the multi coloured houses.